Senate Dems at odds over health deadline

A bipartisan group of senators has yet to establish a deadline for completing healthcare legislation, according to Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusLawmakers: Leave advertising tax break alone GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda White House tax-reform push is ‘game changer,’ says ex-chairman MORE (D-Mont.), contradicting a party leader.
Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who is leading closed-door negotiations, downplayed reports the he had until Sept. 15 to complete work on the bill.

Not so, Baucus said Monday after meeting the “gang of six” senators - Democrats Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Kent Conrad, and Republicans Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Feinstein: Comey memos 'going to be turned over' MORE (Iowa), Mike EnziMike EnziFive takeaways from Trump's first budget proposal Eliminate Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 to create jobs Trump releases budget that slashes government programs MORE (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

But a deadline will be set, he said.

“We’ve got to have some kind of a stopping point,” Baucus told reporters. “We’ll discuss an exact date in the next couple days.”

Senate Democrats disagreed over whether there was a Sept. 15 deadline in the first place.

Bingaman said there was “not a firm deadline” adding, “I think we’re trying to finish it some time in September.” But Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerHow Trump can score a big league bipartisan win on infrastructure Overnight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door GOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (D-N.Y.), the third-ranking Democratic leader and a Finance Committee member who is not part of the negotiating group, touted the Sept. 15 deadline during a conference call with reporters earlier Monday.

Republicans, meanwhile, objected to the very concept of a deadline.

The dispute – or confusion – over timing portends further delays for a bill that President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama visits Prince Harry at Kensington Palace White House to share info on ethics waivers White House considering vetting Trump’s tweets: report MORE originally wanted passed by the Senate this Friday and threatens to prolong the Finance Committee’s deliberations threaten long into the autumn.

Baucus has been under pressure from Democrats to show he is making progress on Obama’s foremost domestically policy initiative while the three Republicans have been pushed not to agree to anything too quickly, nor without consulting their GOP colleagues.

According to Schumer, Baucus and Grassley agreed last week they needed more time and that Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? MORE (D-Nev.) gave his blessing to the Sept. 15 deadline.

“We want these negotiations to work, so when both Baucus and Grassley said they needed more time, Leader Reid said he understood,” Schumer said.

“I think the timeline is more than fair,” he said. “Six weeks should be enough to succeed.”

If Baucus is not able to forge a bipartisan deal by then, “you have to wonder whether Republicans would ever agree to anything,” Schumer said. Democrats are planning for “contingencies” under which the move healthcare without Republicans, including employing budget reconciliation rules to pass a bill with a simple majority, Schumer said.

Enzi flatly rejected the notion of any kind of deadline in a statement issued Monday just minutes into the meeting in Baucus’s office.

“I have not and will not agree to an artificial deadline because I am committed to getting healthcare reform right, not finishing a bill by some arbitrary date," said Enzi, who is a Finance Committee member as well as the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which approved its portion of the healthcare bill without any a single GOP vote.

"Improving access to quality, affordable healthcare for American families is too important to do hastily. Additionally, since many of the policies under discussion will not take effect for a number of years, we should focus on the goal of meaningful reform and not rush to meet timelines,” Enzi said.

Snowe told reporters Monday that "we're certainly going to try" to come to agreement by Sept. 15, but, minutes later, rejected the notion of a deadline. "I think we should disregard timetables," she said.